Monday, April 21, 2014

Windstream says high-speed rural Internet, with feds paying 75% of construction cost, will be available in Oct.

By Kristen Sekinger
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Windstream Communications is extending high-speed Internet service to Midway and many other rural areas in Kentucky with the help of $60 million in economic stimulus grants from the federal government.

The fiber-optic service will include places where the company currently has no customers for its copper-wire Digital Subscriber Line service, said Scott Morris, senior adviser for corporate affairs and spokesman for Windstream.

That is good news for horse farms like Airdrie Stud on Old Frankfort Pike, which needs two separate lines in order for everyone who needs to watch online video of horse races to do so at the same time, adminisrator Laura Sullivan said.

“They watch horses on a daily basis,” she said. They’re on it all the time watching our horses. It is very important.” She said the Gainsborough, Three Chimneys and Darby Dan farms, all along Old Frankfort Pike, are in similar situations dealing with slow service.

Sullivan said Windstream is the the farm’s only choice because Time Warner Cable, which offers Internet with TV and phone service in Midway, doesn’t reach Airdrie. “There is no other option at this point other than Windstream,” she said.

Morris said Windstream is mainly a rural provider and wants to expand broadband services to as many places in Midway that they can fit within the budget. The grants from the 2009 economic stimulus legislation will enable much faster Internet connections as well as expand future selection of communication and entertainment services, he said in an interview.

The idea behind the stimulus grants, he said, is to provide high-speed Internet services in areas where it wasn’t previously possible for financial reasons. “In the country, if you live really far out, you probably can’t get broadband speeds, you can probably only get dialup,” he said.

Broadband speeds are often not as fast as expected. Sullivan said Airdrie gets up to 3.5 mpbs, but the speed varies, getting even as low as “one and a half [mpbs], depending on the day.”

The grants cover 75 percent of the project costs throughout the country, leaving Windstream with the other 25 percent, roughly $16.4 million in Kentucky.

“Windstream was the largest recipient of these grants,” Morris said. “What we’re doing is we’re filling in gaps in our network where there is dialup service but not broadband service. Each one of these projects are relatively small because they’re just filling in pockets under the rules set by the agricultural program … which determines how much money would be awarded per location.”

The grants came through the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service. RUS spokeswoman Anne Mayberry said in an email, “When complete, Windstream estimates the network will offer broadband service to approximately 225,000 households, 10,000 businesses and 1,000 anchor institutions, such as schools, libraries, hospitals and municipal facilities in 80 communities.”

Mayberry said Congress passed the stimulus package ‘‘to help lift our nation from the greatest economic crisis in our lifetimes and lay the foundation for future growth.’’  She said the package provided RUS with $2.5 billion to expand access to broadband services in areas that are at least 75 percent rural and ‘‘without sufficient access to high speed broadband service to facilitate rural economic development.’’

Morris said after the project is complete, which is to be in late October, Windstream will notify prospective broadband customers that the service is available in their area. The customers decide whether or not they want to sign up for it.

“When we deploy the fiber optic cable and electronic hardware that is necessary to deliver broadband to unserved areas, we frequently pass by existing customer locations. In some cases, these current customers may then qualify for faster speeds,” he said. “It would be up to the customer to decide whether he or she wanted the faster speed. There are no automatic price increases.”

For example, Morris said customers who previously qualified for service with a speed of up to 6 megabits per second might qualify for up to 12 mbps after the project is finished.

Windstream has leased the former city dump on Spring Station Road from the city for an installation related to the project and is paying the city a one-time fee of $15,000, three times what it originally offered.

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